Eat Like Hemingway

Ernest Loves Agnes

One of the hot trends in dining today is the “themed” restaurant, and this year’s theme of choice in Seattle is the Hemingway-inspired boite. By my count there are three new places using Papa’s adventures and lifestyle to inform their spaces and menus.

As with other trends it is difficult to know what kicked this one off. I’m not aware that it’s a resurgence of interest in Ernest’s writing or a re-evaluation of his importance in the literary world although I do believe he is underappreciated. My guess is that it’s the romance of the Hemingway legend.

Three years ago I reread A Moveable Feast, the Hemingway memoir of Paris in the ‘20’s when he, Hadley, and their son, Bumby, lived in a walkup flat on Rue Cardinal Lemoine. As a writer I was reminded of the book’s rich insights into Hemingway’s writing process and the window it opened into the ordinariness of his daily life as a young writer in Paris. Bumby, aka Jack, was a friend of mine until his death in 2000, and A Moveable Feast rekindled my interest in Hemingway the writer in contrast to the Hemingway the myth. Moved by the memoir, two years ago I visited the Paris flat, drank Pastis at Les Deux Magots, ate oysters at La Coupole, browsed book stalls on the Rive Gauche, made a pilgrimage to Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and this fall I spent time at the Hemingway house and museum in Key West.

The 1920’s is a romantic epoch for literature lovers who are able focus on the romance without having to cope with the real life aggravation of cold winters and 5-story walkup apartments. With this as background it’s not surprising that Hemingway’s adventures continue to inspire and add interest in contemporary settings.

In our city, where attractive, innovative, restaurants and cuisines are flourishing; the romance of the Hemingway era provides an atmosphere for the creation of intimate spaces evocative of that earlier time.

Ernest 2

The three new Hemingway-inspired spots are all quite different reflecting the many aspects and places that played a role in the writer’s life or lives as the case may be. After all, he lived and worked in France, Italy, Spain, Cuba, and China as well as a number of locations in the US.

Of the three local restaurants, I think my favorite is Ernest Loves Agnes (reviewed in this magazine September 29, photos above), although all three offer something special. This café’s name is a trivia player’s dream. At 18, before the US entered WWI, Ernest went to Italy to serve as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. An Austrian mortar shell exploded near him and he was badly wounded by flying shrapnel. An American nurse named Agnes von Kurkowsky nursed him back to health and they had an affair. In the end Agnes, who was 7 years older, rejected Ernest. These facts would just be part of the Hemingway biography were it not for the fact that they became the inspiration for the tragic literary romance in A Farewell to Arms, in which an American ambulance driver is nursed back to health by an English nurse who later dies in childbirth.

Ernest Loves Agnes feels like it could be Paris in the ‘20’s. The cozy space (formerly the well-regarded Kingfish Café) is divided into two long narrow rooms, with booths in one and tables along the wall of the other. Both sides are decorated with photographs of Hemingway’s Finca Viglia in Cuba and the small plate offerings on the menu are served on mismatched antique china by a friendly knowledgeable staff. On a recent visit we shared an appetizer of eggplant and red pepper caponata on artisan toast and a cheese plate that featured a bleu, a French double crème, Spanish manchego, and cheddar with a basket of razor thin toasted baguette slices. Everything was delicious and well presented.

The second of the three Hemingway-inspired restaurants, Manolin (Man-o-LEEN), is the creation of Renee Erickson, of Boat Street Café, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and The Whale Wins fame. This time Renee and a quartet of new partners have created a Caribbean centered menu long on fish and interesting spices. The space is less intimate than Ernest Loves Agnes and features hard surfaces, primary colors, a polished concrete floor, and bright lighting. It’s “a clean well-lighted place” like the Hemingway short story of the same name. In 2015 Bon Appetit named it one of America’s 10 best new restaurants. Pas mal, eh?


The name comes from The Old Man and the Sea, the 1952 Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Manolin is the name of the young protégé of “old man” Santiago. Other than the name the Hemingway connection is less clear. What is clear is the popularity of this new spot. With a no reservations policy it’s not easy to get in. Last Friday my wife and I walked in at 5pm and were told it would probably be an hour for a table for two. It was only because two friends walked in about the same time that we were able to capture the last four-top without a long wait. At 5 o’clock? Who eats at 5 o’clock?

We did and it was deliciously different. Like Ernest Loves Agnes this is small plates spot and the four of us shared several – salted plantain chips, albacore ceviche, Tuscan kale with cojita cheese and sweet red peppers, grilled beef with lardo, sautéed squid buried in a molded squid ink fried rice, and a whole grilled branzino (European seabass) – innovative offerings full of exotic flavors.

The last, but not least, of the Hemingway-themed restaurants is Bottle and Bull. Drinking and bull fighting, two of Mr. H’s favorite pastimes. Proprietor Jessi Waldher and husband, Chad, operated Marcy’s Bar and Lounge in hometown Walla Walla but missed the energy of the Seattle/Bellevue scene. They settled on upscale Kirkland for their enterprise and created Bottle and Ball as a hip, noisy, lifestyle bar and bistro. Bottle and Bull combines the dimly lit décor with photographs we saw at Ernest Loves Agnes with the hard surfaces of Manolin and a giant antique wooden bar to offer young professionals of the Eastside a trendy watering hole to gather and gawk.


Jessi is charming and knowledgeable and her staff well trained. After we ordered our food the waiter brought us the pickled egg with salmon mousse and caper appetizer – unsolicited – asking us to try it on the house. It was a clever way to introduce us to the cuisine. Puckery and savory, it was a complete surprise.

Ernest 4

We followed with an apple and Brie flatbread with caramelized onions and fresh tarragon sprigs accompanied by a wild watercress salad with thin slices of watermelon radish. Everything was clean tasting with flavors enhanced by fresh picked herbs.

It’s only suitable to end this Hemingway-theme with some drink suggestions. Bottle and Bull is the most creative on that side of the menu with drinks named for Papa’s characters or adventures. The Robert Jordan (From Whom the Bell Tolls), Blood and Sand (bullfighting), Stockholm’s Prize (Nobel Prize) and Snows of Kilimanjaro (short story) are just a few on their craft cocktails list.

There is something about being located on the top of the Left Coast that seems to keep Seattle from getting the kind of recognition it deserves – whether it’s the Seahawks’ powerhouse, the inventive restaurant scene, or the fact that so many Broadway-bound plays start their tryout runs here. We’re in a secret spot and there’s something special about discovering a place as creative as our city. This is about more than “surviving Seattle.” It’s about linking a particularly creative literary period, in the nation’s second most literate city, with a particularly creative period on cutting edge of American cuisine.





  1. Really enjoyed reading this post Jack! And we loved the serendipity of finding you both that night at Manolin and sharing a table. If not, I am sure we would still be in line waiting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *